Girls who played lacrosse for a former Walter Johnson High School coach who is accused of being part of a kidnapping and attempted murder plot in Virginia were uncomfortable around him, according to one of the players.
In a column posted Jan. 22 on the WJ student newspaper website, senior Lily Salvatore details “odd mannerisms” former coach Gary Reburn exhibited while interacting with players.
Sometimes he’d rub girls’ shoulders and whisper in their ears before sending them into a game, she wrote. Other times, he would “have us wrestle each other, sometimes even join in, having no mercy and flipping us to the ground,” the column says.
His behavior was so odd, the column says, players were not surprised when news broke about the unusual circumstances surrounding Reburn’s arrest.
Reburn is one of four people accused of devising a plan to kidnap five children from two homes in Dayton, Va., near Harrisonsburg, last year.
Authorities say the plan involved Reburn and his girlfriend, Valerie Hayes, along with another couple, Frank and Jennifer Amnott of Florida.
In July 2018, Hayes allegedly told the Amnotts that three of her children had been kidnapped and were being held by two families in a Mennonite community in Dayton. Hayes asked the Amnotts to help get her three children back, along with two others.
Hayes knew the Amnotts could not conceive their own children and “promised if they helped Hayes kidnap the children, then the Amnotts could keep one of the other children as their own,” according to authorities.
The plan included killing the parents at both homes, to eliminate witnesses, authorities said.
On July 29, 2018, Hayes, Reburn and Frank Amnott went to Dayton to execute the plan, but it was foiled when a parent fled from the home, hid in a cornfield and called 911.
When police arrived, they found Frank Amnott holding a second parent at gunpoint in the basement. Hayes was dressed in clothing “to appear as a Mennonite,” according to authorities, and told police she was a neighbor.
Unaware that Hayes and Reburn were connected to the plot, police told them to leave with the parent who fled to call 911. Hayes and Reburn dropped the parent off at a nearby convenience store.
The children were found safe, still in their bedroom.
In August 2018, Hayes, Reburn and Jennifer Amnott fled to the United Kingdom. They have since been arrested and are awaiting extradition to the U.S. That was still the case as of Tuesday, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia.
An MCPS spokesperson in December said Reburn resigned from his coaching position in August 2018.
Salvatore told Bethesda Beat on Friday that she felt compelled to write her story for The Pitch, WJ’s student newspaper, because she could provide insight after being a member of his team for two seasons.
Salvatore said Reburn’s touchiness and teasing made many players uncomfortable. She said he often gave girls nicknames or teased them based on physical characteristics like their height or weight.
“Being on his team, I definitely didn’t want to play lacrosse anymore,” Salvatore said. “Practices were really stressful and uncomfortable to be at. Sports should be a stress reliever, but it really turned into another stressor.”
Students did not report Reburn to administrators while he was a coach because they feared repercussions, although some wanted to, Salvatore said.
When the players were told Reburn resigned, she said, they explained to the administration some things he did that made them uncomfortable, so school officials would know “what qualities we didn’t want in a coach.” The players were not aware of the criminal case until more than a year later, Salvatore said.
In her column, she wrote that “no blame should be placed on the school, for the team never collectively nor independently voiced our discomfort and concerns regarding our coach’s behavior and there was absolutely no way for them to anticipate his future plans.”
MCPS spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala said Friday that MCPS officials were not told of any allegations of misconduct or inappropriate behavior by Reburn while he was employed.
“We take all reports, complaints and concerns from community members, students and staff seriously,” Onijala said. “I feel very strongly if any allegations were brought forward, (the administration) would have acted swiftly.”
Onijala said students are taught in personal body safety classes and suicide awareness lessons that students who suspect or have concerns should report them to an adult. They are taught that “what they share is safe with that trusted adult,” Onijala said.
In a text message, she wrote that “there are students and community members who have expressed concern over [Salvatore’s column] because they did not experience or witness any of the things the student mentions in her opinion piece.”
In an interview on Monday, WJ senior lacrosse player Colleen Besche said she, too, felt Reburn was “strange” and was careful to not be alone with him. She said she wasn’t afraid of Reburn, but his joking and behavior at times was off-putting and made her uncomfortable.
Claire Mallory, a 2019 WJ graduate, was coached by Reburn for three seasons. She said she was not uncomfortable with Reburn, but she advised underclassmen to avoid being alone with the coach, just to be safe.
“I just thought he was a strange guy,” Mallory said.
Since her column was published, Salvatore said, some of her teammates have told her they’re happy she documented and publicized “what we experienced.”
WJ hired a new lacrosse coach in 2018. Salvatore said she no longer stresses about the sport.
“It’s much better,” she said. “I feel good going to practice.”